St. Armands Circle leaders are moving ahead in their quest to add public restrooms, but city officials have questions about the scope of any project.
Business and property owners on St. Armands Circle think public bathrooms are a sorely needed amenity in the shopping district.
That’s why the St. Armands Business Improvement District is seeking permission from the city to build two free-standing bathrooms in medians along the Circle. The BID has already settled on a favored design and hopes to now develop more detailed plans for the project. Early estimates peg construction costs at more than $460,000.
On Monday, the City Commission gave the BID permission to move forward with pre-construction engineering and design planning. Despite the approval, some commissioners have reservations about the scope and specifics of the proposal.
Commissioners Hagen Brody and Willie Shaw questioned why the BID wanted to proceed with two buildings, each of which would have two single-occupancy unisex bathrooms. The city is already committed to building a men’s and women’s public bathroom in the forthcoming St. Armands parking garage, set to open in December.
Brody and Shaw suggested the BID could consider starting with a smaller project, and adjusting if the demand for more bathrooms existed.
“I could honestly see how the parking garage bathroom goes and then approach this subject,” Brody said. “If one bathroom is all we need, I would rather not build these two structures.”
BID Chairman Gavin Meshad said the organization was pursuing additional restrooms because Circle businesses — restaurants, in particular — have long complained about visitors coming in and asking to use the bathroom. Based on the size of the district and the location of the garage on North Adams Drive, Meshad was unconvinced one bathroom would suffice.
“It’s just too far removed when you’re on the other side of the Circle,” Meshad said. “They’re going to still be going into the restaurants.”
Brody remained concerned about committing to two new structures in the medians along John Ringling Boulevard and South Boulevard of the Presidents. He asked why the plans called for just two bathrooms in each building and wondered if the proposal adequately maximized the potential footprint used.
Meshad said the BID selected a design based on the input of St. Armands merchants, landlords and residents. He said the design sought to minimize the profile of the structures, allowing them to better blend with their surroundings.
Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, said businesses that wanted the bathrooms were trying to be sensitive to the needs of people living in the area.
“We were very careful with the residents, because we’re in their front yard,” Corrigan said. “They had a huge part in how these restrooms were designed.”
The commission questioned the costs associated with maintaining the restrooms, if the city decides to move forward with the project. Although the BID said it is willing to pay for planning and construction, it’s asking the city to fund the day-to-day maintenance of the facilities.
City staff said the bathrooms would cost about $66,000 annually to maintain. City Manager Tom Barwin said the city would like to explore the possibility of partnering on expenses with St. Armands stakeholders. Meshad was optimistic that the costs could come down if the expenses associated with maintaining the garage bathrooms were included.
Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked staff to produce a more detailed maintenance plan before the city approved the use of public right of way for the restrooms. And Brody asked the BID to consider its options for adjusting the scope of the project — including incorporating multiple stalls or urinals into one bathroom.
As the BID develops more detailed plans, Meshad said the group would discuss alternative layouts. No matter what form a project ultimately takes, the BID remains committed to its belief that bathrooms are a crucial addition to the Circle.
“Anything would be better than nothing,” Meshad said.